Alfonso Cuarón, writer-director-producer of the anticipated Netflix film Roma, got a laugh from the Contenders audience Saturday at the DGA Theater when moderator Joe Utichi asked him about “discovering” Yalitza Aparicio, an aspiring teacher who appeared in the film in her first screen role.
“I didn’t find her — she was always there,” Cuarón said. “You were lost? I was very lucky to meet with her.”
He added he remains mystified by Hollywood’s frequent declaration that it has “discovered” new talent. “It’s like Europeans [who] find America,” he joked.
All kidding aside, Cuarón, the first Mexico-born filmmaker to win the directing Oscar, for sci-fi opus Gravity in 2014, said it was self-discovery that led him to create an intimate, black-and-white movie about his memories of growing up in Mexico City.
“It was an attempt to come to terms and to try to understand what existence is,“ said Cuarón, who was joined on the panel by Aparicio, actor Marina de Tavira and producer Gabriela Rodriguez. “I have said before that I think [the reason] was age, in the sense that there is a point at which you want to understand who you are in terms of who you were, from the standpoint of yourself, your family, but also the society where you grew up.”
First-time producer Rodriguez said of Cuarón: “He gives me always a headache every day, but it’s worth it. … I am really honored that he gives me headaches and tortures me.”
One potential headache for producer and actors was that Cuarón did not share the script and insisted on shooting in sequence. Despite frustrations, de Tavira called the choice an “incredible blessing. … It really helped us as actors and as characters to immerse ourselves in a real-life experience.”
Aparicio said that ignorance can be bliss when it comes to acting. “At first I thought this was the way every director worked,” she said through a translator. “In our own lives, we don’t have a script.”
I went to entertain the troops in Afghanistan in 2006. We went deep into enemy lines in Tarin Kowt, and it was amazing, because you feel the genuine danger. You walk around at night and there’s no lights on, and you ask,”Why are there no lights on?” and they say, “We don’t want the camp to be a target for a rocket attack”. And then you do a gig, and they’ve got a spotlight on your head and it’s the only light on in the whole camp. That particular tour changed my life as a performer because when I went over there, I thought I’d tell them a few little nostalgic routines about life back in Australia and that would be good. But then when I got there, I realised because of the command structure I was the only one that was allowed to give anyone shit. So I just started paying out the camp I was at, paying out the Americans, all the other forces, and whoever was in charge – and they really ate it up. There was one gig in Kandahar, where the commander of the Australian section said, “Go on stage, do whatever you want. Just don’t say the word c—.” So I went on stage and that was how I opened: “Your commander over there, he said I could say whatever I want, as long as I don’t say c—.” And everyone laughed. And then I said, “But what’s he going to do? Send me back to Australia? Oh, what a shame. Then I don’t get to hang out in this shithole. Oh, I’m devastated. You’re punishing me by sending me to Australia.” And it was so irreverent and so not what I should be doing, that even the commander was laughing. Then I realised this is how you have to perform, like you’re fearless. And that’s the way I’ve approached it ever since. You’ve got to be bold and say stuff that people are a bit afraid to say, because, in general, there aren’t any consequences for a comedian. It’s entertainment. Tom Gleeson is at the Enmore Theatre, Newtown, on May 18, and the Concourse, Chatswood, on May 19.
The one show that made me the happiest for the longest was the Oxfam Gala [at the Melbourne Comedy International Festival] last year. I did a really stupid thing where I climbed over the audience and spoke into a woman’s hair, and it was all for a pun, and everyone really seemed to like it. When I was climbing over everybody, I was shouting that I needed to find my secret stash. I found a box under an audience member’s chair and then took it back up on stage and opened the box and there was a moustache inside and that was the secret ‘stache. It was the most fun I ever had and it was on the telly, which meant my dad was proud. My dad doesn’t really get what I do, but he’s really proud. He ordered a T-shirt that says “Demi’s dad” for when he comes to my live shows. And I record his voice for some of my sets, like fake phone conversations with him, so I love him being involved. It was the best gig because it was the biggest, it was for TV and a good cause. I was buzzing for two weeks. Demi Lardner is at the Factory Theatre, Marrickville, from May 16-20.
Very early on in my career I did a gig with some comedian friends for the Rovers, who are Scouts when they turn 18. At this point I’d only been doing stand-up for six or eight months, so I barely had five minutes of material. But I was excited, this could have been the biggest gig of my life. But for some reason they just hated us from the get-go. They were booing and yelling. Most of my friends who I was performing with stayed on stage, but I decided, “Screw these guys”, and I took the mic and went to their level and kept doing the gig. At one point, someone threw a beer can at me. I caught it, and there was a little bit of beer left, so I drank that, and then I was like, “At least give me a full beer”. But the thing that always alarms me, when I look back at that show, is that I was watching my two friends get booed and I had the option of pulling out, but in my head I’m like, “Well, I’m here already, so I might as well just do this. I’ve driven an hour and a half. I’m going to do my five minutes”. I reckon you’ve got to do every possible gig you can, because that experience taught me that I was able to hold my own in front of 300 people in an outdoor, yelly gig. I don’t know why the Rovers were so mean. Aren’t they meant to be nice people and get badges? I didn’t know there were badges for being arseholes. Dilruk Jayasinha is at Giant Dwarf, Redfern, on May 11-12.
Longreach council were putting together a comedy show to create a bit of culture and booked me and Luke Heggie. So we flew there, and the council guy who picks us up, looks at us and says, “Oh, I tried get someone good like Wil Anderson.” He took us to the venue and it was just this big shed, and there was three locals there and one looked like he was dead, he just had flies in his mouth. It was crazy. Then we had to go to our accommodation, but the pub had been vacated because the family had been accused of dealing meth and it was all locked up. And some guy pulled up and said, “Yeah, the Clancys skipped town a week ago”. For the gigs, we travelled around doing the remote pubs, but they just didn’t care. You’d hear the pokies over every word you said. It was really hard. Heggie had some hope, because he had some relatable stuff about kids, but at that point I was talking about sex and dating and they’re like, “We don’t date here. We meet someone and we marry them.” They were lovely people, but very country Australia. It was a real wake-up call to me. I think that’s a cool thing about comedy, you get to connect with people you might not. I like doing gigs at RSLs and thinking, “You guys aren’t going to like me” and they do, and it’s nice. But I did not have those skills at the time, and it was quite awful. Years ago, I would take it very personally, but now I’m pretty good at shaking them off. I always think if people have fun at the show that’s great, and if they don’t like me, now they’ve got something to talk about. If a couple who have run out of conversation come to my show and hate me, they can have a bloody great time talking about how much they hate me on the car ride home. I’ve given you a gift! Becky Lucas is at the Factory Theatre, Marrickville, May 16-20.
I’ve done some pretty cool gigs. Comedy has taken me around the world, but my favourite gig is this tiny one in a backpackers hostel in the Scottish Highlands, in a little town called Fort William. This was in the early days, when I’d just done my first Edinburgh season at the fringe festival there and I was backpacking alone around Scotland afterwards. I must have mentioned that I’d just finished my Edinburgh season, because that night after dinner I was cornered by the staff of the hostel who press-ganged me into doing this gig for the people staying there. And I found myself sitting on this sticky carpet, completely surrounded by tons of travellers from all over the world – they were Spanish speaking, African, Eastern European, there were Kiwis – there’s always Kiwis in hostels – and they were in this massive circle around me and I was trying to do my show, but they kept on butting in, asking questions, ruining the set-up of jokes, asking to clarify the punchline in simple English. The whole thing was awesome, because it was like campfire storytelling. It was pure connection with an audience. It was raw and immersive, and I think everyone was stoned, so that helped. And, at the very end, they passed a bucket around and I managed to pay for a night’s accommodation with the loose change and joints they put in the bucket. It’s not really my best gig, but it’s my favourite because it was so unexpected. It just happened, I was cornered in this room and I just had to stand up and tell the story and it was lovely. Lawrence Leung is at the Factory Theatre, Marrickville, May 10-12.
I was doing a satirical comedy thing and they had a Kickstarter fund, and one of the rewards for a large donation was a private show by some of the contributors. So we ended up in this fancy butcher shop in Woollahra – one of those places where it’s all marble and sausages on stones – and they had a conveyor belt of hooks, with carcasses rotating, and you’d see them in the periphery of your vision, swinging away, while you were standing in front of them. And four of the five of us were vegetarians. The gig was a surprise for a man’s birthday, so it was 16 people, eating steaks and staring at us, while the lady that hired us, was heckling us. It went out the other side of badness into this joyous, terrible thing. And I remember thinking, “This is now my benchmark. Nothing can scare me any more after this.” It felt like an anxiety dream. The partygoers were very nice in a very confused way. They were just coming to a friend’s intimate birthday party at this fancy butchers, and then all of a sudden five awkward satirists start doing political comedy at them. It was astonishing.
The 10 Most Inventive Screenplays of 2017 by Chris Boone on the no film school site.
Declaring one screenplay over another to be the best of the year is not only subjective, it’s impossible. We can’t even come to a consensus, which is exactly the point when debating movies, books, and art. You can have a strong opinion, and maybe you can find several other people to agree with your opinion, but you can never be right. So let’s not argue over which screenplay was the best of the year. Instead, let’s admire those screenplays that were among the most creative of the year.
With that in mind, these are 10 of the most inventive screenplays of 2017 in my humble opinion, in no particular order (don’t let the numbers fool you).
1. A Ghost Story— A wholly unexpected, emotionally haunting tale comes to life
Trying to convince people to watch A Ghost Storyby summarizing the film for them is a fool’s errand. The husband of a young married couple dies suddenly, then returns to their house as a ghost, appearing just the way you imagined ghosts looked when you were four-years-old—a body hidden under a white bed sheet with two black holes for eyes. The sheer premise of this film should not work.
And yet A Ghost Story has haunted me ever since I saw the film earlier this year. David Lowery’s film is sparse, pushing his own penchant to focus on the small moments in between the major events of a story to the extreme. The film is also gut-wrenching. Just say, “The pie scene” to anyone who has seen A Ghost Story and watch them groan like you just punched them in the stomach. Lowery’s film requires patience and a willingness to go along with this simple yet absurd concept, taking the audience to the most unexpected places, all while staying in the exact same place. Those who choose to take this journey will find themselves haunted by this film, too—in the best way possible.
2. Lady Bird — The pain of being a teenager, and raising one, in all its glory
On the surface, Lady Birdmay seem like only a coming-of-age story about a headstrong teenager rebelling against her mother during her senior year, itching to escape her Catholic school, her social status and her hometown of Sacramento. Look harder, though, and you’ll find a love story, not between Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson and the boys she pursues, but instead between Lady Bird and her mother. This love hurts, emotionally and physically. Words wound. And somehow, we’re laughing while we’re crying. We’re also feeling a terrible urge to talk to our parents or our children (or both) about the pain we’ve caused them, sometimes intentionally, many times not.
Greta Gerwig’s writing and directing is confident, just like her story’s protagonist. Both Gerwig and Lady Bird know what they want and how this story should unfold. Nothing about their choices feels false. When the film ended, the woman next to me, who had been sobbing through the entire third act, turned to her friend and asked, “Was this a true story?” Lady Bird may or may not be autobiographical, but the story is most certainly true.
3. Get Out— Just when you thought we were living in a post-racial world
I will admit it: I have difficulty watching horror movies. I have avoided some cinematic classics in the horror genre my entire life because I am afraid their images will sear into my memory, never to be unseen. Yet I could not resist going to see Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out. My palms were sweating before the film even started.
Of course, like all great horror films, Get Out transcends the genre with its social commentary on claims that our country had entered the post-racial era with the election of Obama, when people of color knew all too well that anyone who believed that notion was either blind, unwilling to look harder, out of touch with reality, or a combination of all three. Peele wrote and directed this film before the election of Trump, which makes his script all the more prescient.
Peele also intended for the film to have a much darker ending. During the testing of the film, he realized audiences needed a hero and they needed a release. Peele discovered that the ending of the final film created the expectations in the audience that his original ending portended while satisfying the audience’s desires, too. Get Out reminds us that the best message movies are the movies that feel like pure entertainment, then lead to discussions and debates long after we have left the theatre.
4. Colossal — Discovering the monster inside all of us
When Colossal begins, you might be a little confused. The cold open of the film may lead you to believe that you’ve stumbled into a South Korean monster movie. The next scenes will make you think you’re watching an indie comedy about a young, broke party girl, forced to move back home when her boyfriend kicks her out of his apartment. If your brain hasn’t exploded from trying to keep these two disparate story threads tied together, Colossal will reward you with one of the most original concepts in recent years.
Like the story’s protagonist, writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s film makes some missteps in the second half of the second act, but the audacity of the film’s premise combined with the empowering and creative ending more than make up for the unevenness in my opinion. I always give extra credit for originality, even if it creates a few bumps in the road along the ride.
What if someone made a television show just for you? Literally, just you. Now ask yourself, why would somebody do this? Brigsby Bear examines this very question with a big-hearted, sweet story that, when you step back and consider the circumstances, really ought not to be sweet nor big-hearted. Such is the magic of this film, written by Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney (who also plays the lead James), and directed by Dave McCary. When James discovers his favorite TV series has ended abruptly, he decides to finish the series himself. To say much more for those who haven’t seen the film would ruin the story.
Winner of the Audience Award at Slamdance 2017, Dave Made a Maze is a hilarious look at what happens when you get over your fear of creating something, but then push that creativity just a bit too far and get lost in the process. The writing is sharp and witty, the subversion of genre is fantastic, and the set design is a DIY dream (or nightmare). Written by Bill Watterson and Steven Sears and directed by Watterson, this film feels like the perfect midnight movie to watch with a bunch of friends as Dave’s friends go an adventure to save him from his own creation, despite his dire warnings to stay away.
7. The Big Sick — Finding your true love (when she’s in a coma)
If you were to pitch a rom-com where, after the couple has its obligatory fight and breaks up, the guy tries to win the girl back only to discover she is in a coma, you’d probably be shown the door. If this were a true story, however, and instead of following the rom-com formula, the movie explored family dynamics, cross-cultural understanding, and true compassion, then you might have something.
Writers and married couple Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani pull back the curtain on their unlikely courtship following their break-up and Emily’s subsequent coma. The film finds comedy and heart as we watch Nanjiani balance the expectations of his Pakistani family, the initial hostility of Emily’s parents, the arguments between Emily’s parents, and his early stand-up career, all while worrying about what will happen to his ex-girlfriend when the doctors don’t seem to have any answers. If it weren’t based on a true story, you might never believe it. Because it is a true story, you’ll find it hard to resist.
By definition, sequels really should not qualify as the most inventive screenplays. The original film set the stage, created the world, told the tale—how can a sequel truly be original? Blade Runner 2049 defies those expectations. One could argue this film should not even exist: a sequel to a cult sci-fi classic (that was never a box office success) that has gone through five official versions (not including two preview versions), and yet still leaves fans arguing about whether Deckard is a human or a replicant.
What makes Blade Runner 2049 remarkable (for those with the patience to get sucked into its world) is that Hampton Fancher and Michael Green’s script answers some initial questions immediately, creates its own mysteries to be revealed later, and still never truly answers the question that has caused so much debate among its fans for over three decades. And yet, you will find many fans who believe this sequel has actually answered the question about Deckard once and for all. They just happen to disagree with how the other fans interpret the sequel’s clues. So, the enigma continues.
9. Mudbound— Shifting perspectives to reveal the whole truth
When we hear a character in voiceover, we naturally think the film is this character’s story to tell. But the story of Mudboundneeds to be told from a variety of perspectives to give the audience the complete picture. As such, not one, not two, but six characters—three black, three white—share their inner thoughts with us as Mudbound unfolds. The film borrows its storytelling structure from the novel by Hillary Jordan upon which it is based. The result is the creation of sympathy for each of these characters, at least when we first hear their voices take over the story. As the story continues, our sympathies shift dramatically as we watch the intertwined families of these landowners and sharecroppers reckon with one another on a farm in the Mississippi Delta during and after World War II, creating both unexpected joy and devastation.
Director Dee Rees, who shares screenplay credit with Virgil Williams, imbues those voiceovers with extra meaning as she underscores their words with beautiful, haunting images. My one regret while watching this film was that I couldn’t see these images on the big screen because I don’t live in New York or Los Angeles. Netflix may be championing independent filmmakers and innovative storytellers through the company’s festival acquisitions and original productions, which I applaud, but the streaming service is also robbing many of us of seeing cinematic works as the filmmakers originally intended—in a theatre.
10. The Shape of Water — A fairy tale of romance, espionage and a sea creature
Guillermo del Toro is at his best in the land of fairy tales for adults. Over a decade ago, he pulled us down into Pan’s Labyrinth, an immersive fantasy set against a dark reality, reminding us that the most memorable fairy tales don’t have happy endings. In his latest fairy tale The Shape of Water, del Toro and his fellow screenwriter Vanessa Taylor balance the whimsical with the sinister, creating one of the most unlikely and romantic love stories in recent memory. The opening sequence alone is worth seeing on the big screen, visually setting the tone in a wonderfully detailed master shot.
Mixed into the plot of a mute custodian falling for a mysterious aquatic creature in a secretive government laboratory is even a love letter to cinema and the grand movie palaces of yesteryear. The Shape of Water flows effortlessly from drama to adventure to fantasy to romance, and reminds us that we go to the movies to get lost, to get swept away by a story, as long as we are willing to let go.